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Champion Fighter Nurmagomedov Wades Into Daghestani Cultural War Over 'Porno' Play


The play includes scenes of the scantily clad wife and men in various forms of undress with occasional kissing and some mild, simulated sex scenes.

A risque theater performance in Daghestan has provoked a cultural standoff and an apology from the actors after MMA champion Khabib Nurmagomedov denounced the “porno” staged in his native republic, eliciting a wave of support from local officials and fans.

Manhunt, a two-hour play performed by a three-person troupe from Moscow, features an eccentric married woman who meets a young intellectual in her search for excitement and turns his life upside down, according to the show’s description on yandex.afisha.

After a performance in central Makhachkala on February 23, video from the show was posted online and quickly provoked ire in the ultraconservative republic in Russia’s North Caucasus.

The play includes scenes of the scantily clad wife and men in various forms of undress with occasional kissing and some mild, simulated sex scenes.

MMA champion Khabib Nurmagomedov
MMA champion Khabib Nurmagomedov

Nurmagomedov, a much-celebrated native son whose fame peaked after his October 6 victory over brash-talking Irishman Conor McGregor, took to Instagram to chide government officials and spur his 13.7 million followers into action.

“Why is everyone silent and nodding along to this porno in the city center? Or do you want people to take to the streets?” he wrote. “Tell me, does our country’s law approve of a performance where naked men and women kiss in the city centre? Why is the law defunct? And who’s going to take responsibility for this pornography?”

Hours later, the show’s lead actor and producer, Ivan Zhidkov, issued a public apology to the people of Daghestan.

“My inbox is filled with threats. I get that this is a response to our unintentional insult, but still,” he wrote on Instagram. “Every society has its traditions and principles and we respect them, but we didn’t consider that things are this strict.”

Zhidkov immediately began receiving threats.

“Know your place, don’t come again to Makhachkala,” one user wrote in the comments section of Zhidkov’s Instagram.

“We have our own laws and our own traditions. People here are cultured. Keep your distance -- we won’t tell you a third time!!” wrote another.

Another actor in the play, Stanislav Bondarenko, wrote that "our main lapse was a weak analysis of the possible consequences. If our performance has insulted spectators or residents of the republic, I apologize."

In Moscow, fellow actor Denis Kosyakov waded into the dispute on Zhidkov’s side.

“In the land of honor and dignity, performances cannot be staged. There you can only beat and shoot people. That’s manly. And theater is for gays,” he wrote in a tweet he subsequently removed, coloring the statement with expletives.



Apparently surprised by the reaction, Kosyakov later posted a video to YouTube in which he said he’d received threats against his wife and kids and tried to calm the furor his tweet had caused.

On February 26, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called for people to take into account local customs and traditions while understanding that Russian law ensures freedom of expression.

“When it comes to local customs, these cannot be ignored, especially in a country as multicultural as Russia,” he said in comments carried by TASS.

But Anna Gadzhiyeva, a Daghestani journalist, criticized the harsh reaction to the performance.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov

“By what you do, it seems to me that you are turning people away from Islam,” Gadzhiyeva said. “These actions are unattractive. Violence, threats, swearing, dirty fights, and death threats are unattractive.”

Daghestan, a Muslim majority republic of some 3 million people in Russia’s North Caucasus, is among the most conservative of Russia's entities.

It has in recent years become a no-go zone for artists viewed there as immoral or insensitive to Islamic values.

Critics commonly invoke the performers’ tattooed looks and the promiscuity their music videos appear to promote, amplifying a regional culture war that has seen the involvement of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and prominent sporting figures like Nurmagomedov.

Several Russian entertainers have been forced to cancel scheduled appearances in Daghestan after public uproars, including rappers Allj and Yegor Kreed, who canceled his September 9 concert in Makhachkala on the eve of the show after a storm of online insults and threats.

Nurmagomedov -- the undefeated lightweight world champion of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) -- firmly inserted himself in that dispute as well, even using homosexual epithets to refer to the singers while warning them not perform in Daghestan.

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